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Ed Suba Jr., Akron Beacon Journal
Judy Walser, of Cuyahoga Falls, who is participating in the Trinity United Church of Christ's Trinity Trimmers program, keeps a close eye on the scale as she is weighed in before the worship service by Del Wallace, wife of the church's pastor, the Rev. Carl P. Wallace, December 11, 2011, in Akron, Ohio.
Our goal is to find out what the needs are in the community and to use our resources, our time and expertise to help meet those needs.

AKRON, Ohio — Lolly Marzulli is making healthier choices these days, thanks to her church family at Trinity United Church of Christ.

The Akron, Ohio, congregation is encouraging its members to participate in a health initiative in partnership with Western Reserve Hospital of Summa Health System. The 15-week program, called Trinity Trimmers, was launched in January and is in its second round.

While most of the participants are trying to lose weight to maintain a healthy lifestyle, a few, like Marzulli, need to put on some pounds. Those needing to gain weight are dubbed Trinity Tubbies.

"I was up to 106 pounds, then I went down to 95. Now, I'm up to 103. I'm very rarely hungry, but being in the program reminds me to eat — and to eat lots!" Marzulli, 38, of Barberton, Ohio, said earlier this month. "The nice thing about the program is that we can rely on each other for support. I need to get up to 115 pounds to get to a healthier place."

Trinity Trimmers are divided into teams of three people. Each team serves as a support group and comes together to share Bible readings and pray to help with spiritual growth. Each participant also solicits sponsors to pledge money for weight lost or gained.

The components of the program are designed to attain three goals: to improve the physical health of the participants, to improve the spiritual health of the participants and to improve the financial health of the church.

Each Sunday morning, participants weigh themselves on a scale the hospital has provided. Weights are recorded, and a bell, also provided by the hospital, is sounded to signal weight loss for Trimmers and weight gain for Tubbies.

"You can hear the bell throughout the church, even in the sanctuary," said Bob Durr, 58, of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. "Hopefully, the sound will inspire others to come and join the effort."

The first round of the program — it kicked off Jan. 16 and ended April 24 — included 43 Trimmers and four Tubbies. The Tubbies gained a collective 9 pounds, and the Trimmers lost a collective 229 pounds. The church collected nearly $3,000 from sponsors.

The biggest loser in the group shed 20 pounds. Three participants lost between 15 and 19.5 pounds; 10 lost between 10 and 14.5 pounds; eight lost between 5 and 9.5 pounds; six lost between 1 and 4.5 pounds. Five participants ended the program with no loss or gain and eight gained between 1 and 11 pounds.

During the first program, representatives of Summa Western Reserve conducted four hour-long classes to cover health-related issues. The topics were hypertension, respiration (allergies and asthma), nutrition and a session that included blood-pressure checks.

Dr. Robert Kent, president and chief executive of Summa Western Reserve, said the hospital will continue to support the program at Trinity. He is hopeful the partnership with Trinity will lead to other opportunities for outreach.

"We're about health care, and we want to support efforts in the community that impact people in a way that helps them improve their lifestyles," Kent said. "Our goal is to find out what the needs are in the community and to use our resources, our time and expertise to help meet those needs."

During the current round of Trinity Trimmers, which began Nov. 6, the hospital is providing health-related literature and plans to offer classes to address such specific issues as diabetes, nutrition, hypertension and heart health.

Ten teams of three make up the second round of participants at Trinity. One participant is Larry Lee, who co-chairs the program.

Lee said the congregation thought about waiting to start the second round until next year to give people a chance to get through the holiday season. He said he believes not waiting was the right choice because it will help participants make healthier choices during a time of year when people typically gain weight.

"I know that, on a personal level, when I'm at parties, I think about having to weigh in on Sunday and I watch what I eat," said Lee, 48, of Akron. "It's amazing that people have been losing weight during this holiday season, when it's so easy to put on pounds."

The Rev. Carl P. Wallace, senior pastor at Trinity, said he was stunned by the number of times he heard the bell ring, signaling weight loss, after Thanksgiving.

"I thought somebody had dropped the bell, but people had actually lost weight," Wallace said. "This has been a great program. It's helping us spread the word that the body of Christ needs to be healthy."

Wallace said the health initiative fits perfectly into the United Church of Christ's focus on health. The Cleveland-based denomination adopted a mission statement on health and welfare in 1985 and recognizes health and parish nursing as a specialized ministry. The mission statement is rooted in faithful stewardship of God's gifts, including the body.

"Our hope is that we can expand our health initiative into the community," Wallace said. "Our motto is 'We are at the heart of the community with the community at our heart.' We welcome anyone who wants to join us to come. As God's children, we need to be healthy — mind, body and spirit."

Trinity United Church of Christ, at 915 N. Main St., Akron, offers Sunday worship at 10:30 a.m. For information, call 330-376-7186 or go to www.trinucc.org.